The Library of Congress has acquired an exceptional collection of nearly 700 ambrotype and tintype photographs showing both Union and Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War.
During the past 15 years, the Liljenquist family of McLean, Va., sought out high-quality images to represent the impact of the war, especially images of young enlisted men. The photographs often show firearms, hats, canteens, musical instruments and other details that enhance the research value of the collection significantly.
Liljenquist and his three sons – Jason, 19; Brandon, 17; and Christian, 13 – became interested in Civil War history after finding bullets and other signs of an encampment near their home in Virginia. As they began to investigate other artifacts from the war, they were especially attracted to the images captured in the photographic formats called ambrotypes (on glass) and tintypes (on metal), which were often placed in special frames and decorated cases.
Among the rarest images are African Americans in uniform, sailors, a Lincoln campaign button, and portraits of soldiers with their wives and children. A few personal stories survive in notes pinned to the photo cases, but most of the people and photographers are unidentified.
The works in the Liljenquist Family Collection complement the Library’s already extensive holdings of Civil War images. Since the early 1900s, the Library has actively acquired visual materials documenting as many aspects of the war as possible. Examples include eyewitness drawings by Alfred Waud and William Waud and other artists working for illustrated newspapers; historical prints showing battles, camps, hospitals and military leaders; and glass-plate negatives, stereographs (3-D views) and large-format albumen prints associated with master photographers Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan and Andrew J. Russell. A selection of these images can be found in the American Memory collection “Selected Civil War Photographs.” Additionally, searching the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for each photographer will pull several pages of photographs and related material.
The Library has several other American Memory collections related to the Civil War, including the diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, Civil War maps and band music from the era.